Alaska is bracing for summer. As the state’s cruise season gets underway, record numbers of passenger ships will be heading north between now and September.
It’s not too late to join the rush. The deals are great, including prices that start at less than $500 a person for a week-long cruise. If you’re already booked, we’re going to suggest some don’t-miss places to visit.
More than 1.3 million passengers are expected to tour the 49th state this summer, a 16% increase from last year.
The increase is attributable to more and bigger ships. In the past, most ships cruising Alaska carried 2,000 or fewer passengers; this year, four ships will host close to 4,000 passengers each. The larger ships can be repositioned to the West Coast because of the expansion of the Panama Canal.
This northward migration means extra cabins to fill, which means some people will score deals.
This summer, Norwegian Cruise Line is sending northward two superships — the Norwegian Bliss, which visited Alaska for the first time in 2018, and its sister ship, the Norwegian Joy, recently undergoing a $50-million renovation.
Both ships, which will cruise from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera in the fall, can carry 4,000 passengers each.
“Bliss was so popular that we decided to bring Joy to the West Coast too,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian president and chief executive.
Princess Cruises, which is celebrating 50 years of Alaska cruising this season, will have seven ships sailing north, including the 3,600-passenger Royal Princess, one of its biggest ships. Most ships sail to Alaska from Seattle or the Canadian cities of Vancouver or Victoria.
But the Royal Princess will also sail one round-trip voyage from Los Angeles on a 12-day cruise. (Sept. 17, inside cabin from $1,598 per person, double occupancy). The Royal will home-port in Los Angeles in the fall, then sail to the Mexican Riviera.
Other players include:
►Holland America, another experienced Alaska cruise line, will have eight ships in the region on itineraries of seven to 21 days.
Deals to Alaska
This is the summer, then, to take advantage of deals, thanks to the laws of supply and demand.
Prices are per person, double occupancy, inside cabin. Taxes and fees are not included. These deals are based on availability.
►$418, June 15, Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess, seven-day, Vancouver to Anchorage, including Glacier Bay
►$399, Sept. 21, Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess, four-day Alaskan sampler, round trip from Vancouver, including Ketchikan, Alaska.
►$599, June 15, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Joy, seven-day Seattle to four ports, including the Inside Passage
►$649, Sept. 7, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Joy, seven-day Seattle to four ports, including the Inside Passage
Info: Contact a travel agent or the cruise lines.
The Alaska ‘don’t miss’ list
The Inside Passage. This is what Alaskan cruising is all about. Check itineraries to see how much time your ship will spend cruising there. Some ships sail mainly at night, which means you might not see as much.
Ketchikan. Check out Creek Street when your ship docks. It’s charming, of historic significance to the community and, when the salmon are running, you can watch them make their way up the nearby creek to spawn.
Tracy Arm. If this enormous fiord south of Juneau isn’t on your ship’s itinerary, try to visit by float plane (a wonderful adventure) or on a small boat when you dock in Juneau.
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau. You can take boat, helicopter, plane or dog sledding excursions there. Or take an easy 4- to 6-mile wilderness hike.
Glacier Bay. See the ebb and flow of glaciers within this majestic 65-mile-long fiord, which has tidewater and alpine glaciers and is ringed by mountains, including the world’s tallest coastal range.
White Pass and the Yukon Route Railroad. This is the No. 1 choice of cruise passengers, who ride the narrow-gauge railway as it climbs out of Skagway, following the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush trail. It’s an incredible ride.
Hubbard Glacier. The 40-story-tall Hubbard weighs in as the largest and most active tidewater glacier on the Alaskan coast, dwarfing even the largest cruise ships. Its phenomenal blue color is spectacular even from a distance.